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Hamish McKenzie - concerned citizen, London, Ontario

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

I must admit, I'm a little bothered by Nandor's proposed half-step to reform New Zealand's cannabis laws. This time he baulks at advocating full decriminalisation for cannabis; instead he proposes that users merely receive fines without accompanying criminal conviction.

I can only imagine this uncharacteristically weak proposal is in order to present a more 'moderate' face to mainstream voters, from whom the Greens would dearly love to glean a few more votes.

But it means Nandor, one of the few politicians with a spine, has apparently sacrificed a sizeable chunk of ideological flesh in the name of pandering to voters. Indeed, he could argue this represents a step towards full decriminilisation, but it looks more like a relenting of values for an issue that needs strong and intelligent debate.

United Future and National have come out with predictably hysterical responses to Nandor's Private Member's Bill.

Peter Dunne has said, "From day one, we have taken the position that drugs are a scourge on society and ruin young lives, so we make no apology for taking a hard line."

What he says is partly true. Drugs can ruin young lives, and are, to a minor extent, a scourge on society. Drug problems may even be escalating in our country. But the "hard line" he refers to, which has been practiced for, like, ever, hasn't done a thing to solve the problem. If drugs are such the problem in our society as parties like United Future and National assert, then that seems to be damn good evidence that drug prohibition has been an immense failure.

If Dunne and co. were really interested in fixing drug problems, they should be pushing for complete drug legalisation. That word, "legalisation," will certainly scare off a lot of the nanny votes, and reactionaries who don't want to sit out an explanation, but it's a word that would be key in actually addressing, rather than suppressing, drug issues. If only someone would give it a chance.

Legalising all drugs -- not just cannabis, mind -- would put the power in the government's hands. Then drugs could be regulated, restricted, controlled, instead of left in the hands of gangs and other irresponsible dealers willing to kill to protect their hugely inflated profits. Then we could properly educate young people about drugs, instead of just pretending no such things exist and hoping they don't find them by themselves. Then, instead of ignoring addicts with serious problems -- problems that pose a threat to society -- we would treat them, rehabilitate them, and -- who knows? -- maybe even make them useful members of society again. Then we wouldn't have to waste so many millions a year to fight an unwinnable battle.

If Dunne and National want to see how successful a "hard line" approach to drugs has been, they need look no further than the United States. You can read all about that mess in this 2004 Critic article, in which a former undercover cop explains why drug prohibition screws everyone.

In the meantime, I hope Nandor rediscovers that spine and takes the drug decriminalisation message -- although we need more than that -- back to the people.